Pedrosorren.com Week in Review #04 (May 3rd - May 10th)

 

I have been failing miserably at having the discipline to send the weekly reviews. So this is another attempt to recreate this habit. Thank you for paying attention and, as always, please reply with interesting insights that you might have. 

#SwiftClasses

Some of you may know that I made the decision to learn how to code and ship a very simple meditation related app before Q3 starts. I've been taking classes twice a week at General Assembly here in San Francisco. 

GA is not a great school. I think my teacher is a great coder, but terrible at teaching. I'd rather have someone that is not a genius engineer but is good with people. The online tutorials combined with the super helpful TAs are a good combo and since it's not a cheap course it gives the necessary discipline to get things done. 

#UdemyCourse 

I am very excited about this side project. Lately, I've been collaborating with Reinaldo Normand, one of my mentors and dear friend. We are doing an online video series about how to move to Silicon Valley as a foreigner. There will be a free, beginners guide and a paid exclusive course for the most advanced folks out there.

If you are a student, entrepreneur or want to come as an executive, fill this survey out. The reception on this has been tremendous and just with the idea we have over 65 students interested in doing the course. 

#Uno

During the past 2 weeks, Uno has not seen any progress. In between work and side projects + GreenCard, it just did not become a priority. 

#Exercising

I gained some weight this past couple of weeks. Not a lot, but it sucks. This week I am back at eating better and exercising. I have already separated my gym clothes for the entire week and after this email will cook most of my meals. 

#500Startups 

Last week I was a keynote at WMD.co. It was the first time I did public speaking for over 400 people in Silicon Valley at a premier conference, and I am happy to say that my slides are the top 5 most accessed after the conference. You can check them out here. 

Have a wonderful week. Meditate, hug people and follow your dreams. 

Onward,

@pedrosorren

 

Man's Search For Meaning Review as a Startup Founder

Recently my close friend Doug Gould recommended a book that I finished about 5 weeks ago. Excellent read. 

I took comprehensive notes, but only now decided to write about it. Man's Search for Meaning is a global best seller and famous for being the book that inspired Tony Robbins to become a coach. 

Purpose and Drive

Viktor Frankl wrote this book during his years at several concentrations camps in Nazi Germany. It's about human nature, coping with suffering, survival, but mostly, it's about finding purpose and coping with adversity, but definitely not a self-help book (nothing against them, by the way). The elements his theory called logo-therapy are great fundamentals for surviving as a founder.

When Nietzsche said "He who has a why can bear with almost any how", he was probably was not thinking about hackers and product builders, but it one can certainly relate.   

My grandfather was my first real mentor. The reason I ended up in tech is mostly due to him and he doesn't even own a smartphone. That said, he always reinforced the importance of skilled knowledge combined with a  fearless attitude. "With that life can take away everything and you would still have enough to rebuild yourself", he used to say. Viktor touches that aspect of the book multiple times, how the ones that survived were the ones that knew that the experience of the camp would serve a purpose. Mentally they never gave up. 

We have so much power, even when we are powerless. Believe me, I've worked for many poor managers in my life and I've always had the choice of either reacting in a positive grateful way (by using my time and focus on other projects) or to be resentful and angry with my current situation.

Entrepreneurs must get used to the "default NO's" from society. We must be built to last. 

There were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.
— Viktor Frankl

When trying to summarize what provides us purpose in life, Frankl listed 3 of the main logo-therapy principals:

1 - Creating a work or doing a deed 

For founders this is probably the easiest one to relate with. Creating something from scratch and seeing it come to life is probably one of the most satisfying things in life. Either when it's an app, service or hardware. I'm sure that musicians get off of that as well (I did when we had our high school band). On a higher ground this is about leaving a legacy in the world, about surpassing our imminent fear of death and becoming immortal trough high impact work. 

2 - By experiencing something or encountering someone

Love. Nothing like feeling appreciated and loved by others. I've recently started a relationship with a very special woman and  although we are many miles away from each other, this immense feeling of joy is there every-time we interact. 

3 - The attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering 

I haven't met anyone in life that has achieved something that is worth doing without some level of pain. Overcoming adversity is all about how you react to what happens in your life. 

Onward. 

Procrastinating Your Own Success

Currently I am in Rio for Carnaval for a very small break with friends, people I care & love. Usually, when you remove yourself from your day to day, the best conclusions come to life. 

During the flight here I had the immense pleasure of sitting right next to a dear friend of mine that recently quit his job at Salesforce and is about to go on a world travel adventure trough Asia. On parts of this trip, he'll finish his program at Tony Robbins coaching university in Bali and will become an advanced certified life coach. 

He is following his purpose with courage. 

We had a pretty deep conversation about where I was in life, how some of my personal friends and acquaintances went to become multi-millionaires entrepreneurs and that I felt a little stuck. 

I've always been a huge proponent of productivity and self-improvement. Thus the 1% better manifesto. But somehow, during our conversation he clearly demonstrated to me how disconnected I was from the "old Pedro" - that started two companies and hustled his way to Silicon Valley as a 1st generation immigrant. 

I've been procrastinating my success for the past 14 months. It's evident, loud and, unfortunately, super extra clear. I am also doing this great 67 Steps from @Tailopez. 

Probably the best thing that he mentions during his entire program is that one of his signatures quotes:

“Everybody wants the good life, but not everybody gets the good life”.
— @tailopez

It's time to earn my success and work harder. Time to get myself out of my comfort zone, follow my purpose and live the dream. 

It won't be easy, but very fun. Onward. 



Untrained Algorithms

This AM, at about six', I felt like checking Facebook. If we've seen each other in the past month and a half, I probably told you that I decided to cut Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for 3.5 months. 

After 1.5 month, I am back on Twitter. After I had lost money on the stock, I was a bit pissed but also find decent value on the platform itself. Even Fabric looks like a very interesting product. 

But then I re-activated my Facebook account. 

I was served only with crap and irrelevant posts on my timeline. It looked like Facebook had about 50 years old because that was the average age of the people I saw on my timeline. 

Posts from a distant uncle, my mom's friends, random people that I don't even recall. There was also some close family things that I was already aware, because with or without Social Media we tend to keep in touch with the ones we care and love. 

Algorithms need to training. Repetition is king. Like losing weight, the more you put effort towards it, the better it gets?

I just don't have any desire to "train Facebook" on my preferences. 

Account deactivated. 

Next Attempt: Instagram. 

 

Great Food and Less Drinking

Today I woke up with a terrible stomachache. Not sure what is going on but if feels terrible and I am assuming that it has to deal with the 3 beers I had last night, with a couple of great friends that were visting from Brazil.

For the first time in a really long time I didn't have any breakfast and had a very light lunch. Definitely revisting my eating and drinking preferences. Better to nurture than hurt my body. 

Let's be present. 

 

Change Management

Growing up is extremely painful. Personally or as a corporation, differences are very little in so many ways.

Currently, at SendGrid,  we are at a stage where there is no more room for lack of excellence.

I was one of the few people that was very supportive and happy when they fired our former CEO (I really like him as person, but not as a leader). 

Regardless, I did not expect that "the grind" was going to get this painful. We've always been too comfortable by having found early product market fit and have developed this toxic culture of being self centric instead of customer centric. 

This past 3 months more than 15 people have left SendGrid (some were also fired) all due to various different reasons, but one thing is certain: we are changing rapidly and that's refreshing to see, but not pleasant to experience. 

I am employee 22. We are almost at 300 people. 

In change management about 35% of the people will churn out. The other 35% will sit and wait and make their decisions after some certainty has developed. I am part of the last 30%, the ones that embrace change and thrive from it. 

Growth rates will slow down, but I am certain that we are building a better company, that is focused on becoming the absolute best email company out there.

I love this @avc tweet about different stages of financing. 

So what are the Series C for? I would say that is the separation between the men and the boys. The time to develop operational excellence, to hit cash flow break even,  to ship a couple of new products that will become profitable lines of business and to develop clear IPO predictability. 

This week I am hoping for a bit more certainty, but things are starting to look like a very fun ride. 

No pain, no gain.

 

 

 

Inactivating Twitter, Facebook and Instagram until March of 2015

This is not my first time taking a break from the social media firehose. About the same time last year, before going on the holiday break, I decided to deactivate Facebook and Instagram. This time I am taking up a step further and also deactivating Twitter. 

I have been way too active on these platforms and have actually obtained very little value out of them. 

I will be focused on more important projects than just sharing small little life blurbs of what I am up to, where I am going and the trivial content that you usually read on these channels. 

My focus until March will be on:

  1. Actually focusing on 2015 resolutions to the fullest potential (more on that soon)
  2. Posting more here and on Tumblr 
  3. Growing an email list 
  4. Posting more videos on my YouTube channel

You can still find me at pedro [at] pedrosorren.com or if you have my phone number, find me on Telegram / WhatsApp / Viber 

Let's Crush It. 

10 Steps to Get API Distribution For Your Company

Recently I was invited to speak at the AutoDevBot API Conference here in San Francisco regarding BD, API Distribution and how to get customers for your API related company. 

There are way more than 10 things that you have to do in order to grow your customer count and be successful in the API Economy. That said, since every journey starts with a first step, here are some of the things that I believe apply to anybody wanting to start the next SendGrid, Twilio or Stripe. 

If you don't want to read it, scroll down for the slides and full video of the presentation.  ;-) 

1 - Work on an universally distributed protocol 

SMTP, SMS, Payments, Bitcoin, DNS, HTTP and the list goes on. All the top API companies are, for the most part, improving existing protocols or processes that have been in place for many years, not trying to create things from scratch. That way you start day one with massive distribution. 

Email is huge and we are a big part of it. Today we send 2% of all non-spam email in the world. That's about 13 billion messages a month, give or take. Most people use email, most people use SMS, we use payment networks multiple times everyday and transactions will always need some sort of authentication.

The full spirit of way I mean by well adopted protocols and your ability to improve upon them is also described here, on the excellent comparison that Brian Armstrong did with Bitcoin and SMTP. 

2 - Add More Value Than What you Can Capture 

I've talked here before about this excellent Tim O' Reilly Stanford talk. Major APIs are not supposed to just send data from point A to point B or just expose services requests and posts.  

The future is depends on companies and technologies where 1+1=3 . Several of our customers were acquired (Instagram, Posterous, Slideshare, Summify, Pardot - to name a few) and if most of them had to build all their systems in house, most likely it would have taken much longer for them to grow exponentially. 

Help people do their mission better and faster by focusing on the things that matter and your Developer centric API will get adoption. 

3 - Be there Early

"Everywhere". That's probably one of the words I heard the most during my first year at SendGrid (I've been there for almost 3). That is our goal. Being the first partner of your category in multiple platforms has a lot of value. All of our very successful channel partnerships took time to become real money makers and being the first email tool there proved to be a very important piece of that.

Today we have full executive support to always do a deal with the new kids on the block that have growth potential. That's what happened with Heroku and SendGrid. We took an early bet (along with 8 other companies) on Microsoft Azure and it was a fantastic decision. Arrive early, stay late and help your partners. 

At end of the day, specially in BD, "people are buying you they are not buying your product". 

4 - Have Internal Resources that can Support You 

I know a lot of BD guys that have a miserable job. Mainly because they work solo and have to Excel prove every deal that they want to execute on. But that's normal. The problem is when you have to beg for developer resources, marketing attention and support assistance to end up being perceived as "the partnerships dude". 

To execute a good API partnerships you will need marketing, engineering, product, support and in some cases account management. Make sure that there is management buy-in, so that when you have to work with people they can understand the value of the work they are doing. 

At SendGrid we are fortunate enough to have a dedicated team just for partnerships in almost all capacities. This way we can sell, operate and support 35.000 customers (just counting partner customers here) with a team of 4 .

Today we can co-sell to Fortune 500 companies via a partner channel and partner with a new platform that hasn't even raised their seed round at the same time. 

5 - Service as a Software Matters

Being a SaaS company is great. If you have product-market fit and some venture capital, there is a good chance that you'll build a business that is predictable and runs with the most common Financial Performance Metrics for SaaS companies. 

But one thing that makes a huge difference is your ability to become a services company at the same time that you scale. The ratio should be something in between 70-30 or 80-20. So about 1/4 of your company should be working on non-scalable solutions, such as account management, support and outbound sales. 

Competition is very aggressive. Anything cloud, API or IT tends to get commoditized in about 5 years. We can't forget that there are humans on both sides of the table and your major accounts will count for most of your revenue. Give them a better SLA, prices, support and most importantly preferencial treatment on everything. But don't forget to kick ass on the core product, since self-service customers are fundamental for API companies. 

6 - Sample Apps and Good Documentation 

I am a big fan of smart laziness and so are most developers. Remember, you want your API to be the default answer for any problems it can solve. When we launch a deal we work on sample apps, documentation on our website, the partners website and a solid GitHub repo will make a difference. 

If somebody searches for "how to send email on node.js" we should have a sample app for that, with a technical tutorial on the top 5 hosting companies documentation pages that are well known for Node apps. 

Think about the questions that your customers will ask when building their apps and go become the default answers for that everywhere.  

7 - Pay Attention to the "Why" of the Deal  

Every partnership (for the most part) will be slightly different. It's important for you as a company to define the expected values that you want to get out of your partner deals. For SendGrid is usually a combination of revenue, awareness, customer acquisition at a lower cost, defensibility and corporate development potential

8 - Launching and closing is only the first step 

It takes time. Sales cycles can be long and certainly there is that immense satisfaction when code is in production, the legal agreement is executed and a blog post is published or a press release syndicated. Regardless, the most successful distribution deals will require a steady level of maintenance. Pretty much the difference between farming and hunting. Both are important if you want to be able to feed the company with new customers and revenue channels.

 9 - Learn how to say no

That's probably the hardest part of the job, but like Elad said some of the best deals are the ones that never happen.  It's very important to be able to separate opportunities that are just noise versus working on deals that add value. My manager mentioned to me once (quoting a VC that I don't remember) that as an entrepreneur we are always looking for the "yes" and that VCs are always looking for a ways to say no, which perfectly makes sense to me.

That's why I am no longer default to yes in my life

 10 - Learn that "no" can always mean "not yet" 

To be a great BD professional you have to be bullet proof when the topic of conversation is rejection, specially when trying to close new deals in verticals that you have no experience. Our best deals where the ones that took longer to close, but happened because we were patient enough that things worked out in the end for both sides. A lot of factor can influence the result of a deal.

For the most part it is more important to learn the reasons behind the "no" so you can turn them into a solid not yet, that eventually will be a yes. 

Default to yes in Silicon Valley

I recently moved to San Francisco. Certainly I do not want to move back to São Paulo, Brazil — where I was born and raised — or to Boulder, Colorado where I spent almost 3 years going to grad school and working for SendGrid (which I still do). Love those places, but the plan is to establish my life in the Bay Area.

I’m a firm believer that here in SF you can find everything you need to be the best person you are destined to become. 

A while back I had coffee with Shane Steele. She is awesome and a very experienced marketing professional having worked for Twitter (pre-IPO), Yahoo, Coke and some others. Probably one of the best pieces of advice she gave me was that in the early days in the Bay Area I should be “default to yes”. 

When we talked about that in more details, the meaning of it took more shape. When things are new and fresh you should accept random invitations, not try to have total control over the people you meet as well as keeping a sane level of space and emptiness so new things can flourish in your life. Like a personal Sunyata for newcomers. 

Personally I tend to be a bit of a control freak with my time and productivity, so taking that approach was certainly a challenge. That said, here are some of the things I've learned on the “default to yes mode” after 6 months in SF:

 

  • Kayaking around the Bay Are is awesome, safe and totally possible
  • In general people are very much open to meet for a cup of coffee
  • You'll rarely make it to the South Bay, unless there is a business thing going on
  • Being in SF makes things much easier if you work in tech. Synchronicity happens with much more frequency 
  • It’s very important to be able to build something (a blog, an app, events, art) 
  • Pay attention to events and learn how to filter the good and the bad, by attending some of the bad ones
  • Don’t network for the sake of networking, make it relevant for some purpose 
  • Finding an unique voice in Silicon Valley is something very important and hard (still working on that)
  • Help people without expecting anything in return 
  • If you are single (like me) do a healthy combination of offline and online dating - it’s the best way
  • Enjoy a lot of the famous public events like Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest, St. Patricks, Santa Con 
  • Just show up!
  • Do volunteer work
  • Know how to pitch “you” in less than 2 minutes
  • Organize parties
  • Help friends organize parties
  • Wait until visitors come to actually do all the touristy stuff 

Important to say that "default to yes” does not mean saying yes to everything. It means being open to things that look and could be interesting, without letting go of your core principles and mission. I guarantee that some of that randomness will certainly help you find yourself faster. It’s been working for me and I plan to continue to welcome positive things in life.